Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fairy Tale Spotlight

The Other Sister

Cinderella has got to be the most common and universal fairy tale.

The attractive premise of an under-valued, unloved misfit finding happiness and wealth forms the premise of several novels, movies, and television series in the past century.  Our culture is permeated with rags-to-riches ideology.  Just the other day, I saw a discount DVD for Maid in Manhattan in the store and it dawned on me that this, too, was another Cinderella story.

Approaching the story with a fresh perspective is the object of many modern renderings.  

Lately, I've seen creators casting the antagonist as the main character.  Books like Wicked and The Magic Circle tell the tale from the point-of-view of the not-so-wicked witches of The Wizard of Oz and Hansel and Gretel.  And though I have yet to have the pleasure to view it, I understand that the series Once makes Rumpelstiltskin the Beast.

But so far my first experience with a tale focusing on neither the hero nor the villain was in this excellent short story featured on Enchanted Conversations, an online fairy tale magazine with which many are probably familiar.  In her short story, "The Other Daughter," Elizabeth Twist wrings the old cloth of the story of Cinderella and draws a second life out of it.

The fairy godmother is an old faerie--a sprite, a creature of nature, who retains the non-malicious wildness that is attributed to her kind in folk tradition.
I am the sister of many brothers. We move between the world above and the world below. We make and unmake things: rocks and sand; plants and trees; rivers and seas; even the animals and the fish and the birds, and the bodies of people, although not the part on the inside, which is a mystery to us. Most people don’t see us, or when they do, it’s as long shadows running through the grass or darting between the trees at twilight.
Cinderella's good mother is a witch, who betrays the elf's trust and binds her in slavery to her daughter.  She tricks the "godmother" after the creature when the asking of a favor would have done.
She said, “Little daughter, I need to beg a promise.”

I held very still to show my consent.

“I am dying. My husband will soon marry another. I need you to look after my other daughter.”

I agreed by sipping milk from the bowl.

Her hand gripped my neck so hard I could not move. She pierced her fingertip with a knife and drew something on my back, a spiral pattern. It burned me.

“I bind you to serve the daughter of my flesh,” the mother said. “That which she asks, you shall perform.”
What a bad taste this mother's milk leaves in readers' mouths.

The cinder-girl herself turns out to be whiny and helpless.  The prince is after power--not political or social power, but the power of magic only rightfully belonging to a servant of nature.  What happens when he recognizes the faerie's hand in Cinderella's exploits?

I think readers will be satisfied with the horror-tinged ending, which remains loyal to the original fairy tale.

Additionally, Ms. Twist's language rings clear and sweet as a bell, and is a pleasure to read.


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